Donald Cammell on White Of The Eye- “Tradionally art is amoral”.
From White Of The Eye- David Keith and Cathy Moriarity, “I was gonna talk to you about that…”
Trailer for White Of The Eye (1987) “Does she really know him”?
In my last posting discussing Keith Richards’ autobiography Life, I mentioned that Richards, who is comes off as a fairly forgiving soul (even Tony Sanchez who wrote the fun but hateful Up and Down With The Rolling Stones is given a pass) only two people really stick in Keith’s craw- one of course is Mick Jagger (see comments section of that posting for a few theories on that) and the other is film director Donald Cammell. Cammell is an interesting figure, the subject of a documentary (The Ultimate Performance) and director of only four films (and one unreadable novel, Fan Tan, co-written with Marlon Brando of all people).Two of his films are brilliant (the other two– Wild Side and Demon Seed are fairly awful, but that may be because they were re-edited by the producers and make no sense at all) . Cammell first flick was Performance (1970), co-directed with Nicholas Roeg and starring Mick Jagger, James Fox and Anita Pallenberg has been much discussed over the years and is surely a rock’n’roll classic, badly received when it was first released, today it’s considered a masterpiece and it even shows up on late night cable TV sometimes. Cammell’s second great film, White Of The Eye which was also a box office flop and is almost never discussed these days but it is also an incredible film. It doesn’t show up on TV, Netflix and rarely in revival houses (remember those?). Starring David Keith and Cathy Moriarty, this tale of a happily married serial killer (and high end stereo installer) may just be the creepiest (in a good way) flick I’ve ever seen. I’m at something of a loss for words here trying to describe it, but I do get a chill just thinking about David Keith’s performance, for my money his best ever, although once when I saw him in my bar and tried to tell him so, he look appalled and made a hasty b-line for the door. His portayal of a seriel killer with a sense of mission is spot on perfect. But, something (perhaps his reaction to my attempted compliment) tells me he wasn’t too crazy about Donald Cammell , and that White Of The Eye wasn’t a great career move for him.
Donald Cammel, a debauched, fallen Scottish aristocrat (his father was a friend and biographer of Aliester Crowley) began life as painter and was doing fairly well in Paris painting portraits when he packed up his paints and headed for London in the mid-60’s to make films. He wrote the script for a goofy swinging London picture called Duffy with James Coburn and James Mason (which was terrible) and another called The Touchables which I’ve never seen. He then began working on Performance which would take several years to complete and another two before it would be released. The suits at the studio (Warner Bros) back in Hollywood hated it.
After Performance, he headed to Hollywood where he wrote dozens of screenplays and treatments, none of which went beyond the meeting stage until he took a job directing Julie Christie in the rather lame Demon Seed, an unsuccessful attempt to cross Rosemary’s Baby with 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film was taken out of Cammell’s hands in the editing stage, so who knows if what it could have been. After White Of The Eye flopped he wouldn’t direct again for eight years, finally getting the green light for a film called Wild Side , starring Christopher Walken, Anne Heche and Joan Chen, again the producers took the film away from Cammell in the editing room and the final results were such a mess he took his name off the credits. He supported himself by directing U2 videos and selling treatments around Hollywood, several to Marlon Brando. A short that I’ve never seen called The Argument came out in 1999, two years after his suicide, and another project that he wrote called Bones Of The Earth is said to be set for production in 2011.
In 1972, Kenneth Anger chose him to play the Egyptian God Osiris in Lucifer Rising (“I always type cast”, Anger once stated). In the mythology of the ancients, Osiris ruled over the land of the dead. I assume that tells us something about Cammell, but one need not know anything of mythology to understand that White Of The Eye was the product of a very brilliant and very disturbed mind. I’m not sure where you can find it, but there’s lots of oddball film sights that a Google search will turn up, many of them sell rare DVDs of commercially unavailable films. This one is worth the search.
One last comment, in The Ultimate Perfomance, it purports that after shooting himself in the head it took 45 minutes for Cammell to die, and that he was coherant the entire time, watching the hole in his head bleed through a mirror. Evidently, his biographers found evidence against this legend, although I never read the bio (Donald Cammell: A Life On The Wild Side by Sam and Rebecca Umland), it makes a good story, and his widow does swear its true. Stranger things have happened.